LPN vs RN

By Craig Miller

10/14/2021



The nursing career is a rewarding and rapidly expanding one, and one great job prospects for growth within the next few decades. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects an average 10% annual growth in both licensed practical nursing and registered nursing over the next decade.

‌‌If you are thinking of entering or returning to school to obtain a nursing degree, you may be wondering what type of nursing is best for you. There are a number of things to consider as you weigh your options.

What is a Licensed Practical Nurse?

‌A licensed practical nurse (LPN), or LPN, is the “entry level” nurse. An LPN certificate is acquired through a one-year program offered at many community colleges. The LPN student learns basic biology, physiology, and pharmacology, and completes a clinical training period. The LPN must be licensed through their state, and recertify periodically.

‌‌The LPN is a practical nurse, and works under the direction of the registered nurse. Their duties include patient care, administration of medications, monitoring vital signs, and completing reports. Because the LPN is the one with the closest contact with the patient, they have the responsibility of reporting any changes or concerns with the patient to the RN.

Licensed practical nurses work under the guidance of other healthcare professionals, and may give patient medications, chart medical records, and provide basic nursing care.

‌‌LPN Job Responsibilities

The job responsibilities of the LPN are varied, to be compassionate, calm, and have a good bedside manner. Because they are the ones in direct contact with the patient and the patient’s family, they need to have a comforting demeanor, and be able to communicate the doctor’s and RN’s reports to the family.

‌‌An LPN also has to have the ability to deal with unpleasant situations and even disgusting things. LPN job duties may have to change bedpans, clean up body fluids, and other aspects of the human body. Many people believe they can “handle it” and learn they cannot.

Is there a difference between an LPN and an LVN?

In some states, such as California, a “licensed practical nurse” is called a “licensed vocational nurse,” but in reality, they are the same thing. The only difference is in the name. Whether LVNs or LPNs, there is not much difference between LPNs vs RNs. Licensed vocational nurses sometimes provide more basic nursing care than licensed practical nurses, who may work in critical care specialties.

There are other types of nursing professionals who are not registered nurses.

  • Certified nursing assistants work in home health care and outpatient clinics providing nursing care in coordination with other nurses.
  • A nurse practitioner bridges the gap between registered nurses and physicians. A nurse practitioner is more often found in hospital settings or working with large patient populations.

‌Advantages to becoming an LPN/LVN

‌The biggest advantages to becoming an LPN or LVN are the speed with which you can become a certified nurse, and the relatively low cost of an accredited practical nursing program. An LPN program will average about $28,000 for the one-year course.

‌‌A typical LPN certification will take about twelve to 18 months to complete, including the hands-on clinical training. For individuals seeking a certification and employment in a short period of time, the LPN certification is ideal. LPN programs may result in an associate degree, depending on the class.

After completing the program, the candidate must complete the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX-PN, the test given to nurses.

‌Because the courses are shorter, and usually available at community colleges or online, they are comparatively inexpensive. They are also available through adult schools. This makes them easy and affordable for people who need to maintain jobs or balance families during their classes.

‌‌Despite being “entry level” jobs, LPN positions are both numerous and pay well. The average starting salary for an LPN is about $45,000.00 nationwide. Openings in physicians offices, clinics, hospitals, and nursing homes means that jobs are available wherever one might look.

Disadvantages to becoming an LPN

‌Of course, the biggest disadvantage is that you won’t be an RN. The LPN slot is undeniably an entry-level position, and you will be at the bottom of the structure, so to speak, the one everyone depends on, and who does most of the hard work.

‌However, as an LPN, there are many ways to branch out and ways to specialize. Besides the basic role of a licensed practical nurse, in hospital patient care, LPNs are found in every area of patient care.

Once you are working in a field of nursing, you may find that you want to obtain an advanced nursing degree in that area. This is an excellent way to proceed, and enables you to learn what options you have in the medical profession.

‌What is a Registered Nurse?

LPN vs. RN: Things to Know for Your Nursing Degree

‌Becoming a registered nurse (RN) or RN involves considerably more education and clinical time. An RN degree is a two- or four-year degree, either an AA or bachelor’s degree. A professional nursing degree prepares the student for work in pediatric advanced life support, administering medication, advanced cardiac life support, work in the intensive care unit, and other skilled nursing under appropriate physicians.

Degree programs are available in most two- and four-year colleges. RN programs can also be completed online, except for the clinical portion of the course. Practical training is needed to learn wound care, handling medical equipment, running diagnostic tests, in addition to all the LPN duties which the RN should be able to perform.

‌‌An RN is usually the head of a ward or manager of a clinic once they are hired. An RN needs to be able to multitask and be able to handle not only patient care but also direct other RNs and LPNs in their duties.

‌What are the Advantages to Becoming an RN?

‌Becoming an RN is a rewarding and challenging career with many opportunities. It is a growth industry. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a need for more than 275,000 registered nurses in the next decade.

RN job duties are more involved, especially in a hospital setting, and can include seeing that each patient has a nursing care plan formulated, vital signs taken properly, blood pressure reading, wound care, and basic life support. An RN will have to discharge patients safely once their care is done.

‌‌Because of the education requirements, the incoming RN can expect a salary much higher than an LPN. The median salary for an RN in 2020 was $75,000 per year. Of course, newly certified nurses won’t start at that, but it is still a well-paid field.

‌‌It is also a rewarding field in other ways. Despite the long hours and stress, RNs reported the greatest job satisfaction and lowest desire to find another job of healthcare professionals. They found their greatest enjoyment in being able to help others and provide care to patients.

What are the Disadvantages to Becoming an RN?

‌As just stated, the hours are long and the stress is high. The same survey that found most RNs were satisfied with their jobs also found that nurses were frustrated with the paperwork and workplace politicking that went on at their jobs. They enjoyed most caring for patients.

‌‌It will take longer to obtain the college degree required for your RN than for the LPN. You can plan on being in school up to four years, and this can be difficult for someone with children or another job to balance.

LPN to RN: Making the Transition

‌If you already have your LPN certification, the road to your RN just got shorter. Both LPNs and RNs are required to take a certification test, known as the NCLEX-RN exam. This exam is given nationally for all nurses regardless of the nature of the certification. There is very little difference between LVNs and RNs when it comes to testing.

‌‌However, because of the experience an LPN gains while working in the field, once they are certified, it is possible for an LPN to waive a portion of the RN program, thus shortening the amount of time needed for obtaining the degree.

‌If you already have your LPN, you may be thinking of going back to school to obtain your degree, and be daunted by the amount of time required. The ability to waive the parts of the RN program you have already accomplished with your LPN will shorten the time, and also a large part of the cost of the two- or four-year degree.

LPN to Associates Degree in Nursing (ADN)

‌‌This is the two-year degree, and is the minimum requirement in most states for an RN. The ADN opens a wide range of career options for the LPN, with a minimum additional investment beyond obtaining the LPN. Some of the specializations available to an RN within a hospital or clinical setting can be held by the RN with an Associate’s Degree.

‌‌ADN and diploma programs also prepare the student to take the NCLEX-RN exam. The National Council Licensure Examination is a test given to all registered nurses, practical nurses, and other nurses and certified health professionals who are not physicians.

Licensed practical nurses and registered nurses both need to obtain their practical nursing diploma at an accredited nursing program. ‌

‌LPN to Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN)

‌The BSN is a four-year degree, and many states are requiring or at least strongly suggesting all RNs have this degree if they want to advance their careers after 2020. It is not absolutely necessary, but it is becoming increasingly valuable for younger nurses.

The BSN can be taken online, and as with the ADN, if you already have your LPN, you may be able to waive portions of the course depending on your experience and the requirements of your particular state. You will still need to take physical sciences, chemistry, biology, and other core science classes.

The advantages of getting the BSN include not only higher wages and a wider array of career options, but also, having a Bachelor’s degree gives the student a backup for transitioning into a different area of medicine if they should decide to move out of nursing later on. It is never bad to have a college degree.

LPN versus RN: Which should I choose?

Trying to decide between an RN vs LPN depends upon how soon you want to get back into the job market, and how much time you have to spend in class. Looking at the two options side by side, the biggest difference is how quickly you can start looking for work.

Average Salary and Career Goals

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the healthcare industry as a whole is growing, and licensed practical nurses, registered nurses, and other nursing professionals have an excellent job outlook.

LPN salaries vary, but the average starting wage nationally is about $45,000. For a registered nurse, the median salary can be up to $75,000 annually. The difference lies in the difference in job duties and education.

The career path is nearly identical, but the RN education is longer and requires a greater commitment. LPN programs are more numerous and less expensive, but LPN job duties may not be as exciting or as rewarding for some. Once you have your LPN certificate, some RN programs may waive certain requirements, and RN job duties may not be what you hoped.

‌‌Should I take online courses?

‌One benefit of the COVID crisis, if it can be called that, is the proliferation of online courses. Although nursing is a hands-on career and requires a great deal of clinical work and in-hospital training, the core courses and lecture classes can be taken online.

‌This is a great relief to people who have to continue working, or who have families to take care of while they go to school. Online courses can be taken anywhere and at any time, as long as they are completed in accordance with the course requirements.

‌If you decide to take online courses, make sure that the online university is accredited, and that any course hours will transfer to other universities if necessary. An unfortunate side effect of the growth of online courses is an equal growth of scams and fly-by-night courses that will take your money and give you a useless certificate.

‌Making the Leap

‌Careers in nursing are among the most rewarding and satisfying pursuits, and whether you choose between the licensed practical nurse to begin with or jump straight into registered nursing, you will never be disappointed. Take the time to explore your options for education and best of luck.

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